At the conclusion of a recent City Council meeting, Council President Randy Corman noted that the council has spent more time on the library issue than any other city business, despite the fact that our citizens listed libraries as one of the lowest priorities of the services provided by the city in a survey we conducted a couple years ago. Randy said, “The council has spent more time than we have on anything else, and I feel like, in terms of an offload, that’s a disaster.”
He also voiced frustration that the only thing we’re hearing from the public is negativity about KCLS, and that concerns him. He concluded by suggesting that KCLS needs to turn around public opinion, and unless they can make 90 percent of the people come in and let the council know they are happy with the service and direction that KCLS is going, he doesn’t feel it’s worth the money taxpayers are paying for library service.
A local resident cornered me recently to ask why there continues to be so much controversy surrounding our libraries. A regular watcher of City Council meetings on television, she complained that it’s like a “broken record listening to the same complaints” against the King County Library System, and she couldn’t understand why the City Council continues to put up with it. She also emphasized that those campaigning against KCLS do not represent her, even though she voted to keep the library over the river.
For the past couple years, there has been a small organized group of citizens who have been vocal, nearly every week, in their opposition to KCLS and issues involving the construction of two new libraries. And as Councilman Corman pointed out, the City Council has not heard from local citizens who are pleased with the added hours and service now being provided to library users, or excitement for two new libraries that are scheduled to be built to serve the Renton community. He also mentioned this week that he doesn’t feel KCLS has adequately responded to questions being raised by the public.
The City Council welcomes citizens to come to City Hall to voice their opinions on any issue. For the most part, the anti-KCLS group has been professional and civil during council meetings, although some of their supporters have been disruptive during KCLS open houses, which is unfortunate, especially for the citizens who have attended to learn more about the library and new facilities.
Because there was concern voiced by some people on how the public could participate in the library construction process, the council adopted guiding principles last September to assure that communication and public interaction would be available and that two new libraries would be built within the allocated budget. The city and KCLS have adhered to this agreement.
This always raises the question as to how government should respond. This city has a genuine commitment to transparency and openness to our citizens. Through regular scientifically valid surveys of our residents, and a public visioning process to determine how our city will look in the future, we continually seek input from our residents. From the parks plan, museum, and future development of our neighborhoods, to participation in our budgeting process, we work hard to include our citizens in the planning process to make sure we are making decisions that represent the will of the majority of our residents. Despite these efforts, we know that it’s important we explore more effective ways of communicating with our citizens so that they are better informed on issues important to our city.
One thing we all know for sure, most people are just too busy with their personal lives to trek down to City Hall every Monday to share their opinion with the City Council, especially those satisfied with the service they are currently receiving. So it’s unlikely that the council will suddenly hear from a ton of residents who are pleased with the library service they are now receiving from KCLS.
We also know that a low percentage of our population takes the time to vote, even when it means a tax increase like joining KCLS or voting for hospital bonds to improve emergency services. This is not new.
In previous years, voters did not come out in high enough numbers to approve the construction of a new public pool. But city leaders felt strongly that local residents should have a quality pool, and they made the decision to fund the construction of the Henry Moses Aquatic Center using reserves. Since the day it opened, the pool has operated at capacity and has become one of our top public amenities. Voters also chose not to fund the Maplewood Golf Course. Fearing that the property would become a mass of apartments and potentially endanger the city aquifer, city leaders made the difficult decision to purchase the property and build a beautiful golf course and restaurant facility, which has been very successful and is envied by many other cities.
The topic today is libraries. By a small margin, Renton voters decided to have KCLS provide library services. As part of that agreement, the city agreed to build two new libraries, and since then, residents have voted to have the new downtown library built at the same site over the Cedar River. That’s our plan and we’re still in a position to provide our citizens with two beautiful facilities while staying within our fragile budget.
Some citizens are advocating for the downtown library to be larger than is currently planned by KCLS, and feel Renton voters would support some additional cost if necessary. Those are ongoing issues that will be vetted by the council.
But we need to get moving. You can be assured that continued delays and debate will cost taxpayers more money. And not everyone will be happy with the final decisions, but that’s to be expected.
We have an obligation to our citizens to move on.